I remember being tired, having nausea and not wanting to move much, as a cancer patient.
Exercise never crossed my mind until I felt strong enough to move, and I became acclimated with the Livestrong YMCA Cancer Support Program. Once I got into a routine, my body began to feel better, so much that I didn’t want to miss a day because it had given me a better appreciation for life and my body.
The Mayo Clinic recently published an article which recommends that people with cancer remain active throughout all of the stages of survivorship. Doctors also are encouraged to prescribe exercise as a strategy to improve the quality of life and long term outcomes for cancer survivors.
The benefits of exercise for cancer survivors include:
— Reducing fatigue
— Improving balance and flexibility
— Boosting energy and mood
— Improving heart and bone health
— Cutting your risk of cancer returning
The Livestrong YMCA Cancer Support Program aims to help survivors who are completing their cancer treatments and trying to shift their lives toward better health — spiritually, emotionally and physically.
The free program is part of Livestrong’s national mission to help cancer survivors return to their normal life — or “new normal,” as they say — with a focus on health and fitness, not the disease.
Nationally, about 350 YMCAs are affiliated with the program, including the Scott County YMCA’s Bettendorf location; the Mercer County YMCA in Aledo, and the Two Rivers YMCA in Moline.
Jennifer Taylor, trainer for the Livestrong program at the Two Rivers YMCA, said individuals who complete the program have experienced a dramatic increase in endurance, strength, flexibility and balance.
“We provide an encouraging and safe environment with certified instructors to help improve spirit, mind and body in cancer survivors,” she said. “One participant said their overall quality of life has improved to an amount they never thought possible.”
Ms. Taylor said Livestrong at the YMCA provides a wonderful social component where survivors don’t ever feel alone. “Those who participate feel comfortable because their peers understand what they are going through,” she said. “They have said, ‘this program has helped my husband and I reconnect after my depression from all of the treatments and cancer diagnosis.’”
Livestrong participants also see a change in their attitude. “I have seen so many success stories,” Ms. Taylor said. “One participant said, ‘I thought I would never run again. This program has (helped me) get my endurance back. I am signed up for a 5K this March.’”
Ms. Taylor reminds us that exercise doesn’t need to be complicated, and that we should start slowly.
“The body of a cancer survivor has been through so much already,” she said. “Baby steps with small goals will help them feel better and grow into a routine they become comfortable with as their movement increases.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, making small changes in your daily routine can make a difference. Getting started can be the hardest part.
To begin an exercise program as a cancer survivor:
— Talk with your health care provider first if you have any long-term medical conditions.
— Plan your strategies. Try adding 10-, 20- and 30-minute sessions of some form of activity each day.
— Choose activities you enjoy — it’ll be easier to stick with your plan.
— Explore new ways to exercise — dance, walk, climb stairs, swim and more.
— Wear a pedometer. Tracking your progress can be a great way to give yourself positive feedback to add more steps every day (1 mile is about 2,000 steps).
— Make it a habit. It takes about 30 days to train your brain into the habit.
To learn more about the Livestrong at the YMCA program, or to sign up, call 309-582-5101 in Aledo; 309-797-3945 in Moline; or 563-359-9622 in Scott County.
Like most cancer survivors, I live with the fear of a recurrence of the disease, but I believe exercise and a healthy diet are necessities to escape cancer.
I make sure I get to the YMCA to work out with my Livestrong trainer and friends as I continue in the journey of survivorship and hope.